Another iconic Austin location bites the dust to make way for a new downtown tower: this time it’s the warehouse between 4th and 5th Streets on Colorado, which in the late 1990s became the upstairs home of the very first Alamo Drafthouse with its tiny single screen. Elijah Wood perfectly described it like being “somewhere between a movie theater, an attic, and a living room.”
Elle Klein: Tim had lined the walls of the theater with hay bales. They were covered with black curtains … There was the wall, then hay bales, then a black curtain. There would constantly be hay coming out on the floor. We would sweep up hay at the end of the night.
Yup. Who needs special acoustic panels for soundproofing when you can just stuff the walls with hay??
There have been serious problems caused by the Drafthouse leadership over the past decade, even as they continue to open dozens of locations around the U.S., but I do miss the spirit of that first little theater and the amazing movies and community experiences that I would never have seen otherwise.
We all know grief now. We grieve the people we loved, but also the people we were before this pandemic began. If you’re old enough, you add it to the grief you’ve accrued over the years: for the children we were, the hopes we had, the people we longed to be. But if you’re lucky, the art that you need still finds you. It reminds you of who you are when you’ve forgotten, and gives you the power to imagine a life beyond this one. It lets you believe that what you’ve been robbed of will be found, that your home will come alive.
Over on Tedium, a nostalgia bomb roundup of 10 image file formats that time forgot. I wouldn’t say that BMP or even TIFF are exactly forgotten, and VRML seems like the odd one out as a text-based markup language (but definitely in the zeitgeist this month with all of the nouveau metaverse talk), but many of these took me back to the good old days. Also I didn’t know that the Truevision TARGA hardware, remarkable for its time in the mid-1980s with millions of colors and alpha channel support, was an internal creation from AT&T (my dad worked for AT&T corporate back then, but all we got at home was the decidedly not-remarkable 2-color Hercules display on our AT&T 6300 PC). JPEG and GIF continue to dominate 30+ years later, but it’s interesting to see what could have been, if only some of these other systems jumped more heavily into file compression…
On the Pioneer Works art center’s site, Everest Pipkin has a great short essay on the beautiful and transitory (and even community) nature of empty spaces, linking parties on the foundations of a halting suburban neighborhood development with the abandoned sandbox virtual spaces of online platforms like Roblox:
To stand in these places is to stand in a place where desire was met. Where for a moment, something that was yours was carved out of the ugly body of online corporate games culture. Like building a fort in the woods between the highway and the mall.
Back in ancient days when I was role-playing and generating code on the text-based ElendorMUSH, some of my favorite places to visit were the handful of “rooms” that were created as secret spaces by fellow developers and local admins, unlinked from the normal Tolkien-themed spaces above. Mine was a hidden grotto beneath the tunnels of Isengard, and it was a great quiet (virtual) place to escape to for a bit.
I love when people dig up new dirt on my favorite things from 30-ish years ago, in this case a playable prototype of a never-developed “talkie” version of LucasArt’s The Secret of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. The folks at the venerable MixNMojo site have a good writeup, including a detailed archeology on the differences and new sound resources discovered, along with information and images of LucasArt’s internal debugging tool called Windex (which ran on a second monitor in Hercules monochrome graphics mode!). Neat.
Hey, it’s Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, and Maurice White talking about their roles in the odd, uneven 1983 toon film Rock & Rule. The movie itself is kind of lousy, except that it somehow was starring these folks (and their music), and despite Nelvana turning it into a very off Disney / Goofy-esque rotoscoped nightmare.
Possibly of interest for the above-mentioned musician interviews alone, the documentary also has scenes of how feature animation was made in the early 1980s (traditional hand-drawn cels with multiplane camera photography), and some talk about the synthesizer work of Patricia Cullen (who IMBD tells me recorded synth scores for a number of other 1980s cartoons and TV shows).
If you read one medium-length essay about Jim Varney and the origins and triumphs of ‘Ernest P. Worrell’, make it this one.
The tactic of creating a nationwide “regional” advertising mascot working for disparate brands still seems pretty strange — I first saw Ernest when I was a kid in goofy early 1980s TV ads for the north Texas chain of Braum’s ice cream / dairy stores and assumed that he was from around there — but they struck on a character that was lasting enough to spin off multiple movies, a TV show, a lifetime of guest appearances, future voice work…
This also reminded me that I’d also seen his name on early Lucasfilm Game products — he was the one who had to bowdlerize the NES port of Maniac Mansion for the NES! Go read his Expurgation of Maniac Mansionpost, it’s worth it if you’re a fan of that era of adventure game.
Working the NY Times crossword, AOL and MSN and Juno and NetZero pop out as weird things to see show up as current-day answers. Granted they make easy crossword fill for the editor, and I guess it’s not that much different than the other archaic jokes and in-references that you’re expected to keep track of (OLEO, OONA, OBI, IBO…), but dotcom-era corporate names just seem more dated than most of the other topical references. The evolution of clues for these answers, though, is pretty interesting, as can be seen here in AOL’s case.
The Quartz folks made this list using a home-grown crossword clue/answer historical lookup tool, which is definitely fun to play with! Hmm, according to this tool, web in the WWW sense didn’t show up until 2000, dotcom didn’t appear until 2001, blogs exploded in 2005, and USENET continues to show up with surprising frequency. Crosswords are weird.
Last week I discovered that the batteries in my late 90’s TI-85 had leaked and corroded, and cleaning it up and turning it on first the time in years I lamented the awesome lost ZShell ASM games that I’d loaded the thing up with back in high school (that was one of the best versions of Tetris ever, right?).
And now, news that Portal has an awesome-looking unofficial TI graphing calculator port. I hope somewhere this is bringing some pleasure and enjoyment to some poor kid sitting in a boring class or study hall.
The first computer at my house when I was a toddler was a Wang (presumably the 8088-based PC clone?) on loan from my dad’s job at AT&T, later replaced by the equally sexy Olivetti M24. All I remember about the Wang was that it had a letter guessing game called Wangman, and some kind of text-based dungeon / Adventure clone. And years later memories of it provided a good chuckle during an episode of the Simpsons (“Thank goodness he’s drawing attention away from my shirt!”). Unpopular computers FTW.
A fun Boston nightly news clip from 1988 on the outbreak of the Morris worm, one of the first Internet-spreading infections that caught mainstream attention. There’s much to love about this clip: the “part-time virus hunter”, the scenes of MIT’s computer labs, the bizarre (but maybe slyly satirical?) footage of the infamous Atari 2600 ET game inserted, um, I guess to, uh, illustrate something computer-y?
A fan-made port of the pixel font built into the adventure game classics The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. As a bonus, a separate version is available that is properly kerned and hinted. (double bonus: opening the .ttf file in Font Book reveals that the demonstration string for the font reads “You fight like a dairy farmer!”)
A post combining Lucasfilm Games and typography? Immediate reblog!
Nice write-up by Ars Technica on the ScummVM project’s history and developers. Hard to believe it’s been around for over 10 years already! (also, I hadn’t heard that they had a brief-lived controversial build that supported Eric Chahi’sAnother World, one of the best games of all time…)
I was very happy to have gotten this far. I had the Kid, the Prince of Persia, running and jumping on my screen. I was able to control it and perform all the normal actions. And it felt right. Timing, speed, animations. Of course it was spot on, it was using the original code written by Jordan Mechner, lifted from its Apple II grave and brought back to life, with a new purpose.
At this point I was sure I could do this. It would only be a matter of months. Oh boy, was I wrong.
From the Prince of Persia C64 Development Blog, in which the author writes with excellent detail about his recent hobby attempt to reverse engineer and port the classic computer game to the Commodore64 (warning: lots of posts about pixels, sprites and assembly language debugging – your entertainment value may vary). The original Apple ][ source code for PoP had long ago been lost, but the game’s creator coincidentally posted a handy excerpt of the game’s design documentation as a PDF on his blog, and many other ports existed, so…why not try recreate the original code?
Bonus: Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner has collated his original design notes and journals into a nice 300-page ebook. Neat! I’d love to have a whole series of these for classic games.
Ars Technica has up a history article on the early web browsers, a rare glimpse into the largely-forgotten software that beat NCSA Mosaic to the punch but didn’t quite make it into pop culture consciousness (seen above is ViolaWWW, notable for early stabs at browsing history, bookmarks, styles, and even embedded scripting — probably also the first web browser I remember using on my Slackware copy of X Windows circa 1994! </old>).
For all of the developments in web technology since 1991, it’s remarkable to see how many UI features and browsing concepts emerged almost immediately and are still with us today.
The Deleted City, an installation that lets visitors explore the virtual ‘homesteads’ of Geocities.com, the most popular gathering place on the 1990’s WWW. For those not familiar, the site made it easy for the average person to set up a basic website (tacky graphics and all), and then group it into a ‘neighborhood’ based on the site’s presumed subject matter.
The installation is an interactive visualisation of the 650 gigabyte Geocities backup made by the Archive Team on October 27, 2009. It depicts the file system as a city map, spatially arranging the different neighbourhoods and individual lots based on the number of files they contain.
In full view, the map is a datavisualisation showing the relative sizes of the different neighbourhoods. While zooming in, more and more detail becomes visible, eventually showing invididual html pages and the images they contain. While browsing, nearby MIDI files are played.
OMG OMG, some kind soul is posting good-quality, full-page scans of all of the old LucasFilm Games / LucasArts Adventurer magazines! Created at the company’s artistic height, these gems were half retail catalog, half inside scoop trivia treasure trove, decked out with never-to-be-seen-again Steve Purcell art (including single-page Sam & Max comics parodying the major Lucas game release featured that issue). They now sell for an arm and a leg on eBay.
If you’re a fan of the old Lucasfilm Games (and the kind of video game nerd that likes this sort of weird find…), don’t let your week go by without watching this internal Lucasfilm Games parody video unearthed by Mix n’ Mojo. Shots of Skywalker Ranch, Ron Gilbert, Larry Holland, jokes riffing off of the “Bo Knows” and “Spielvergnügen” (erm, Fahrvergnügen) ads, and even a song sung on the Ranch’s porch about their adventure games. It doesn’t get much more 1990 then this, folks!
(Bonus: watch for the boxed copy of King’s Quest V on the desk at around 8 minutes in — how’d that get in there??)
Happy 30th birthday, MS-DOS. Thanks for all the memories, whether they were extended, expanded, highmem, or in UMBs.
Sure, you were cobbled together from various other x86 OSes, had features that often felt bolted on, and were scheduled to be “dead” in 1987 (see: OS/2, which Microsoft actively helped develop and then subsequently torpedoed), but you’re somehow still with us today in Windows 7, at least in virtual machine emulation form.
(Pictured above, the OEM box for MS-DOS 3.2, probably from the era when I first started playing around on our AT&T 6300. Photo credit: unknown, but not for lack of trying…)
Screenshot from an interesting project, olduse.net ― Usenet posts reappearing in realtime as they did exactly 30 years ago, a new way of experiencing the history of the early Net. See how things were mere months before the launch of B-News, long before the Great Renaming and the creation of the alt.* hierarchy, and best of all, the introduction of spam is more than a decade away still!
You can use either the browser-based client to poke through the messages, or point your favorite NNTP client to the site and experience it as you would the real Usenet. Nice!
The IBM 2250 graphics display, introduced in 1964. 1024×1024 squares of vector-based line art beamed at you at 40Hz, with a handy light pen cursor. Much more handy than those older displays that just exposed a sheet of photographic film for later processing!
The handsome logo for Segagaga, one of my absolute favorite video game concepts: you run a fantasy RPG version of Sega, the ailing game console company, fending off rival electronics behemoth SonyDOGMA (at the time, the Sega Dreamcast was facing its untimely demise). A surrealist, sarcastic, postmodern metafiction of the Japanese game industry from the inside, satire on a shoestring budget with a bit of loving apology for what was about to happen with Sega and the business in general.
“The Japanese bubble burst in 1993 – that was the start of the recession and the economic downturn. At the very same time, the gaming industry was keeping going just as if it was the boom time. In 1999, it was becoming clear that the boom was fading fast for the industry. Coincidentally, we were making SGGG at this very turning point. Near the end of the game, the hero is fired because his company closes, and he finds refuge in a game store near Sega that actually existed! The store manager is Alex Kidd – he was also fired from Sega, when Sonic arrived. The message to the hero is that no matter how bad things look, there is no point in crying over the industry. You have to carry on – just like Alex Kidd, who is working hard.“
Three printouts on Flickr from Penn & Teller’s 1980’s BBS, the login screen of which helped you set up one of their many “Three of Clubs” card force tricks. Here’s how they described it in the back of their Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends book from 1987:
Got a modem? Call MOFO EX MACHINA, the bitchin’est BBS in the jungle. Just call 212-764-3834, hit ENTER twice, and type the password MOFO (300 or 1200 baud, 8 bits, 1 stop, no parity).
Know who assembled the retail boxes and whatnots for the original Secret of Monkey Island launch (including putting together the Dial-A-Pirate™ codewheels, as seen above)? The actual developers! I believe that’s Hal Barwood in the red glasses, and maybe that’s Dave Grossman on the left? If you have positive ID’s on anyone in the photo, let me know! The GameCola blog scored these photos of launch assembly from Tim Schafer’s Facebook page, including this good bit of trivia:
In one of these boxes, the developers slipped a five-dollar bill, signed by the whole team. It hasn’t been seen since.
The game industry’s definitely a bit different these days.
In the same way a painting allows us to gaze upon the faces and souls of people from another age, or a book permits us to linger on the thoughts of great figures from history and fiction, videogames can expand our awareness of the world as it is, was, or might be.
Might not be the prettiest thing I’ve seen lately, but it’s a point-and-click remake of Infocom’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy! It was released on May 25th, just in time for towel day. More about the new version here and here.
The drawings in this collection were made by various users in a discussion forum on the website www.foreverdoomed.com. Using MS Paint, and other rudimentary computer drawing programs, users attempted to recreate their favorite album covers and let others on the forum guess the band and title from the artwork. […] Some gave themselves a limit of five minutes to recreate the most recognizable essentials.
I sort of like these. I’d forgotten the subtle charm of MSPaint’s spraycan, though I’d always envied MacPaint’s patterns.
The proprietary 8-bit processors that powered Atari’s home consoles are being resurrected by the Atari History Museum’s Curt Vendel. He’s rebuilding each chip from the fabrication specification data detailed in the original tape-outs he has in his possession, and hopes to be able to crank out brand new replacement chips (the originals have been unavailable to the enthusiast market for years). This looks to my non-engineer eyes like an impressive feat of reverse engineering and history gathering! If nothing else, one can appreciate the high-res circuit scans he’s posted in the discussion thread.
Katie Couric goes all regulators on some FMV villains in this circa 1990 clip about arcade laserdisc sensation (well, maybe not so much) Mad Dog McCree. It’s kind of sad to see early 90’s tv – the production values on the crummy video game look far more polished than the Today Show’s.
One of the best games of all time, now running experimentally in your browser, demonstrating that the future could be very bright for non-proprietary interactive content on the web. It’s only the first part of the 2nd level (or whatever you want to call the cage-swinging, alien-buddy-meeting scene) and it’s glitchy, but still looks beautiful and smoothly animated (maybe a bit too smooth, due to the <canvas> polygons being all anti-aliased and filtered out of the box). If you’ve never played the original game, an amazing high-res WinXP-compatible remake came out a couple of years back in honor of the 15th anniversary of its original release.
“[…] gopher [was] an Edenic protocol of innocence (in comparison to HTML, the protocol of commerce and experience)”
Ars Technica checks in on Gopher, the largely-forgotten pre-www protocol for getting information from servers in a simple, hypertext format. It’s out there still, just like the old BBSes, telnet MUDs / MOOs / MUSHes, Usenet, etc., and still useful in some contexts. Very few contexts, maybe – I can’t imagine there’s much in the way of Gopher pr0n or warez trading to give continued backwater life to the old medium, but hey, 4chan’s /b/ is available through Gopher…
What would things would be like if Gopherspace’s concision won out over HTTP’s ability to cram graphics and ads onto every resource? Sounds like our current mobile web app landscape.
“At Home with English”, a fabulous early 1990’s low-budget ESL public access TV course filmed here in Austin, TX, dredged up by the Found Footage Festival. A truly exemplary bit of late-night public access weirdness. I’ve been mentioning this guy to friends for years, always hoping to catch it on so I could tape it. Glad someone’s found a copy, and they’ve even tracked down the star for an interview! This highlight reel’s pretty good, but it’s edited down considerably: each segment was made all the more absurd because they would go over each of the verb tenses repeatedly using the same odd inflection, interspersed with a super-macro-closeup shot of a woman’s lips reciting the vocabulary.
We did manage to fox Psygnosis now and then, and I can lay claim that it took John White an hour to figure out “Its hero time”. When ever psygnosis did some testing, we’d get back a fax with the level name, time taken to complete, and some comments and a difficulty rating. These were usually aound 3-6 minutes, and some general coments on how they found it.
Every now and again though, the fax would be covered in scribbles with the time and comment’s crossed out again and again; this is what we were striving for while we were designing the levels, and it gave us all a warm fuzzy feeling inside.
Early 1990’s gamers all surely remember the schlocky FMV games like Sewer Shark (sadly directed by VFX legend John Dykstra!), Night Trap (widely attacked in the U.S. Senate by Joe Lieberman!!), and Double Switch (starring Corey Haim and Debbie Harry!!!), and probably even get a cold chill whenever the name Digital Pictures comes up. Turgid, not much fun, and costing in the millions to produce, they were supposed to revolutionize the home entertainment business (anyone remember the $700 Philips CD-i?).
The side of the story that I hadn’t heard until now is that those were actually ports by the time the Sega CD and 3DO came around. Originally those games were created for a late 1980’s Nolan Bushnell-produced VHS (!!!) system called the Control-Vision, aka the NEMO (short for “Never Ever Mention Outside”, an appropriate moniker). Special circuitry in the system would allow games to be encoded onto multi-track VHS tape, jumping quickly (?) between segments as players push the control buttons.
Going up against the then-$100 NES, and with a competing video tape game system that already failed on the market (World of Wonder’s Action Max), Hasbro wisely pulled the plug on the NEMO. All of the expensive FMV footage that was shot would only make the light of day a few years later, squeezed down to a resolution of 256×224 pixels, mercilessly dithered down to 64 colors at a time.
From The Women of Leisure Suit Larry. I don’t think I could sum it up any better than the post’s author: “there is a seriously ugly and amazing coffee table art book dying to be made out of this”. Hopefully such a coffee table book would include a portion dedicated to the even-more-awkward non-Sierra attempts at smut like Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender.
A thorough set of the indentity bumpers from Nick at Nite, circa 1991. Kind of surreal (and tedious) watching these back to back, but it’s amazing how many of them I remember, and how many were done by well-known animators. This is where things were at in the early 90’s NYC animation trade. A number of these folks would later be rounded up in Atlanta to help create Cartoon Network. Sadly, all of these cable channels seem to have lost their sense of purpose, with Nick at Nite now showing ‘retro’ shows like “Just Shoot Me”, TV Land focusing on reality programming, and Cartoon Network becoming a dumping ground for kid’s live-action.
Rad, there’s an online ANSI art generator! Relive the glory days of BBSes and dodgy w4r3z nfo files right in your browser. I remember wasting a lot of time back in junior high making colorful DOS menus using ansi.sys and batch files. Better than launching Windows 3.1!
Check it out, make some art: ansi.drastic.net (The drawing program seems to be broken for me under Firefox 3.5.1, but your mileage may vary)
It’s weird to see how generic the times were in 1990: way more acid wash denim and pastel colors, but otherwise the clothing wouldn’t look too out of place at the mall today. The storefronts and water displays still have their decidedly 1980s look, though. ‘90 and ’91 were the formative years when I spent a lot of time at the mall during the summer, bothering the folks at Babbages (they had an Amiga set up to play Lemmings and LucasFilm Games demos!) and whatever comics / gaming stores were around back then, or wasting quarters at Tilt. PS: Terminator 2’s mall sequence was probably filmed not too far from one of these scenes, around the same time.
This new series of promos by Pepper Melon reminds me of the good ol’ days when MTV was running experimental stuff like Liquid Television and the more subversive late-night blocks of animation with Ren & Stimpy, MTV Oddities, The Maxx, and The Brothers Grunt (maybe not so much that last one…). If Cartoon Network’s ditching cartoons, maybe the more artful ones can migrate back to MTV (which stopped caring about the M part of its name way before most Spongebob watchers were born anyhow, as the cliche goes). See the rest at Cartoon Brew.
Darn kids ripping off the operators with their slugs and string tricks, playing Ms Pac-Man and Zaxxon for free! Check out a handful of vintage 1981 mechanical coinslot devices available to prevent scamming at the arcades.
Wow, a surprisingly faithful version of the incredible Eric Chahi game Another World (aka Out of this World) recreated using Little Big Planet on the PS3. The only thing that would have made it better is if LBP let the creator script along your alien buddy.